When logging onto their computers this fall, returning students are in for a surprise.
“Blackboard has been a learning process for us,” said Farlan Blanchert, a spokesperson for UAA, referring to the online university web resource that lets students access class notes, view grades and take quizzes online. “There’s certainly room for improvement. For instance, our most recent surveys show that nearly 20 percent of our graduating seniors are able to lead normal, functional lives after only brief periods of hospitalization and counseling. With our new computer system, we’re hoping to get that number down to zero by the end of next academic year.”
The new system, dubbed “Haystack,” is designed to take interactive learning to its logical next level.
“We’ve done our homework on this one,” said chief programmer Loretta Brodnabik. “With Blackboard, a student wanting to access a discussion board had to click through an average of six different screens just to get started. Over time, students developed ‘coping mechanisms,’ helping them survive this waiting period with minimal psychiatric trauma. These mechanisms include twiddling of thumbs, chewing excessive amounts of gum, self-immolation with mechanical pencils, use of intravenous heroin and checking instant messages.”
The Haystack system is designed to thoroughly undermine these coping mechanisms.
“Whenever you change from screen to screen you have to re-enter your student ID and password,” said Brodnabik. “Then you’re asked, in a series of pop-ups, whether you’re sure you’re ready to proceed to the next screen, whether you’re aware that you’re entering a ‘secure’ area, and whether you want the computer to ‘save’ your password. At the bottom of each window is a tiny square, about three-by-three pixels, with a caption reading: ‘Do not show this message again.’ Clicking the tiny square does nothing, but if you inadvertently click just outside of it, you are automatically logged off Haystack and have to start all over.”
Brodnabik then laughed maniacally to the accompaniment of thunder and lightening striking outside the window of the medieval-style tower that the university has constructed solely for her sinister purposes.
Other features of the Haystack system include a complex graphics feature for each screen, which takes four minutes to load and requires sufficient memory that no other applications can be used simultaneous with Haystack; an “informational cluster” system which clutters the left sidebar with arbitrarily arranged buttons, most of which will take the user to a blank screen or to a page relating to a class in which the student is not even enrolled; and a “zoom” feature permitting students to view documents at only two sizes, 5 percent and 535 percent.
“You can only read one-and-a-half letters of 12-point type at a time, then you have to scroll to the right,” said Brodnabik, dropping a dried newt and a shrunken human head into her bubbling cauldron whose depths glowed with an eerie hue reminiscent of swamp gas. “But hold down on the scroll key for more than a quarter second and you go instantly to the far end of the page.”
Student response to the system change was generally positive.
“Blackboard is good,” said Todd Benson, a senior geology major, “but it has three distinct drawbacks. First, applications aren’t always self-explanatory; second, the course-map feature is difficult to access; and third, invisible, electromagnetic spiders crawled out of the keyboard, through my fingertips and into my brain. They’re inside me now, dictating my thoughts. If I hum loud enough and slam my head against the table they shut up.”
Todd Benson has resided in a mental hospital in Rapid City, SD, ever since he began weeping, ripped off his shirt and then urinated on a computer lab printer after trying for 45 minutes to find a “test blueprint” for his sociology final.
“Blackboard has . . .greatly enhanced our . . . education system,” said anthropology professor Warren Penchotsky in a monotone voice as he stared straight in front of himself with glassy eyes. “The Internet . . . changes how. . . we learn. Everything is . . . more efficient. We live in . . . an information economy.”
Penchotsky then doubled over in pain as Loretta Brodnabik inserted a needle into a straw-filled doll bearing his likeness. Brodnabik _” who entered this world from an unspeakable, shadowy abyss _” then reached into Penchotsky’s heart, tore out his soul, and stored it in the skull-shaped amulet she always wears. Once she has collected enough souls, Brodnabik will gain dominion over the universe as we know it, at which point an era of suffering, the likes of which humankind has never known, will descend upon the world.
It’s still unclear whether Brodnabik’s new computer system will be compatible with Macintosh operating system.